An advance care planning educational session may help students initiate conversations for themselves and their patients, found a recent study. Some effective strategies include the following:

• using a conversational approach;

• using a small group, discussion-based format;

• asking students to think about their own advance care planning.

An educational session successfully engaged medical students in learning about advance care planning conversations, both professionally and personally, found a recent study.1

“We conducted this study with the goal of improving advance care planning education for medical students, so that these future doctors can help patients with advance care planning,” says Hillary Lum, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of geriatric medicine at University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.

Groups of 127 third-year medical students participated in a 75-minute session, framed by The Conversation Starter Kit. Students were evaluated immediately after the session and one month later. “Since advance care planning may not seem like a priority to students who are young and busy, we used conversational, interactive methods to improve engagement and buy-in,” says Lum.

After the session, 73% of students reported plans to discuss advance care planning, 91% had thought about their own preferences for future medical care, and 39% had chosen a medical decision-maker.

Using a small-group, discussion-based format and asking students to think about their own advance care planning were effective teaching methods. “Reflecting on their own preferences made students more comfortable with the concept of discussing advance care planning with patients,” says Lum.

However, just the educational session was not enough to cause students to take any concrete actions with regard to their own future medical care. Only a minority had completed an advance directive (14%) or talked with their healthcare provider (1%). One month later, there was no evidence that the session increased students’ actions regarding these steps.

“The more buy-in from medical students and other healthcare professionals for advance care planning, the more often patient wishes will be followed in clinical practice,” says Lum.


1. Lum HD, Dukes J, Church S, et al. Teaching medical students about “the conversation:” An interactive value-based advance care planning session. Am J Hosp Palliat Care 2018; 35(2):324-329.


• Hillary Lum, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora. Email: hillary.lum@ucdenver.edu.